Artist Alexander Kinoch has always been the odd one in his family - spurning London and convention, he lives in a remote bothy off the beaten path in Scotland. Arriving home one evening he is set upon by four men who pause the beating only to ask, over and over, "where is it?" Alexander has no idea what "it" is and has no response. Thrown over the side of the mountain and left for dead, when he crawls back home he discovers destruction - everything's been overturned or ruined. But his artistic talents allow him to recognisable sketch his assailants.
Called to London to comfort his stricken mother - her husband, head of one of Britain's leading breweries, has had a heart attack in the wake of discovering that the company is on the verge of collapse due to the financial director's embezzlement of millions of pounds. Ivan gives Alexander power of attorney, to the utter fury of Patsy, Ivan's daughter, who has always suspected Alexander of trying to finagle his way into her inheritance.
Less horsey than Francis' usual work, To the Hilt is just as pacy, engrossing and character and plot driven as the rest of his work. The hilt the title refers to is an immensely valuable sword given to one of Alexander's predecessors by Bonnie Prince Charlie; Scottish history and culture are woven throughout the narrative, with the bagpipes Alexander's chosen method of emotional expression, and golf not only a favourite pastime but also Alexander's more recurring painting theme.
In addition there's missing treasure, skulduggery, an ex-wife, a hidden racehorse (not completely removed from Francis' more oft used setting), and a cast of convincing characters including the thoroughly likable firm of Young and Utterly, who I'd love to see recur in another book. This was a magnificently enjoyable action novel that beautifully balances character development with action. - Alex